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Pitino couldn’t get a break for a while after that and when Siva picked up his fourth foul, the coach stomped onto the court and got hit with a technical. Erving Walker made four straight free throws and the Gators led by 11, setting the stage for what could’ve been Donovan’s fourth trip to the Final Four.

But the team that went 8 for 11 from 3-point range in the first half went cold — really cold — not hitting any of nine attempts from beyond the arc in the second.

The Gators missed six shots and committed one turnover over the last 2:30. They didn’t score after Boynton’s layup gave them a 68-66 lead with 2:39 left. They finished with 14 turnovers to six for Louisville — probably the difference in a game in which they still outshot Louisville 50 percent to 45.

“What happens is, you can’t lose confidence,” Pitino said. “I kept telling our guys we’re going to the Final Four. Win the Big East tournament, we’re going to the Final Four. And they did.”

They did it with a team pretty much void of stars.

But the game’s best freshman on this day wasn’t Beal, but rather Behanan, who was far less heralded than the Florida star coming out of high school, but outplayed him down the stretch when the trip to New Orleans was on the line.

The freshman from Cincinnati scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine over the last 8:02 and Louisville’s last two field goals — both after Siva had fouled out with nine points and eight assists.

Beal, meanwhile, matched Erik Murphy with a team-high 14 points and controlled this game for the first 37 minutes.

But over the last 3, he tried twice to take the ball to the hoop, only to get denied by 6-foot-10 center Gorgui Dieng. Beal missed the desperation 3 in the waning seconds and also got called for traveling after stealing a wild pass from Smith while Louisville was nursing a one-point lead with 18 seconds left.

The Gators came into the tournament losing four of five but won their first two games in the NCAAs by an average of 30. They looked as though they’d be playing in the Superdome next weekend, but then they fell apart.

“It was a tough journey for us. I think we stuck with it and we played together as a team,” Beal said. “We got this far. I’m real proud of our guys. It’s just unfortunate we ended up losing today.”

In the first half, Donovan looked like the better coach, though anyone would look good when his team is shooting that way. The Gators went 8 for 11 from 3, 6 for 10 from inside the arc and constantly harassed Louisville en route to a 41-33 lead.

But Pitino didn’t become the first coach to take three programs to the Final Four for nothing. He scrapped the zone defense, had his players get up in the face of the Gators and it worked — though the Cardinals paid the price in foul trouble.

Behanan and Kyle Kuric each finished the game with four fouls. When Siva got his fourth and Pitino got his ‘T,’ the coach tried to settle things down, stepping up to Siva and saying, “It was a foul. Stop saying it wasn’t.”

Whether he believed it or not, who knows?

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